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Australian Capital Territory

Canberra, the capital of Australia, is located in the Australian Capital Territory (A.C.T.) which is itself totally enclosed by the state of New South Wales. Canberra is home to around 350,000 people. The city is 150 kilometres inland and 571 metres above the Pacific Ocean, 281 kilometres from Sydney and 660 kilometres from Melbourne. The latitude and longitude is 35 degrees south and 149 degrees east. The national capital's four distinctive seasons bring their own beauty and charm, making Canberra a rare treat among Australian cities providing a kaleidoscope of colour throughout the year. The sapphire blue waters and beaches of the South Coast, the rural tranquillity of Southern Highlands and the highest alpine peaks in the Snowy Mountains are within comfortable driving distance of the city. The region is home to historic townships, unspoilt nature, excellent wineries, world-class arts and crafts and gourmet produce.

Canberra is Ngunnawal country. The Ngunnawal are the Indigenous people of this region and its first inhabitants. The neighbouring people are the Gundungurra to the north, the Ngarigo to the south, the Yuin on the coast, and the Wiradjuri inland. It is a harsh climate and difficult country for hunter-gatherer people. To live here required great knowledge of the environment, skilful custodianship of it and close cooperation. The first European settlement of the area, later known as the Limestone Plains (or 'Manarro', as it was called by local Aboriginal people), occurred when Joshua John Moore established a station at what is now Acton (site of the National Museum of Australia) in 1823. The local Aboriginal people were referred to by early white writers as the 'Kamberra', 'Kghambury', 'Nganbra' and 'Gnabra', all of which share some resemblance to 'Canberra'.

At the time of Federation, architects, surveyors and others interested in the project already had ideas about an ideal capital city. The New South Wales government sent surveyor Alexander Oliver to examine suitable sites in 1900. He also sketched a circular plan with an outer 'Australia Circus' divided by six radial boulevards named after each of the colonies. After careful consideration of the federal capital question, John Sulman also advocated a radial plan as featured in his pamphlet The Federal Capital (1908). In 1902 and 1903, members of the federal parliament toured a number of New South Wales sites - Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Bombala, Dalgety, Delegate, Goulburn, Lake George, Lyndhurst, Orange, Queanbeyan, Tumut, Wagga Wagga and Yass. Their first choice, Dalgety, was confirmed by parliament in 1904. But many believed the site was too far from Sydney. Over the next few years the choice was debated and rival sites put forward. In 1908, the Yass-Canberra area officially replaced Dalgety as the federal capital site.

On 01 January 1911 the 'Territory for the Seat of Government' was established as an area of 2,360 square kilometres in the Yass-Canberra district occupied by 1,714 non-Indigenous people on pastoral properties grazing some 224,764 sheep. Additional land at Jervis Bay as a seaport for the proposed national capital city was included in the new Territory.

Plan of Canberra In May 1912, Walter Burley Griffin won the competition to design Australia's capital city. As landscape architects, the Griffins designed buildings, gardens, landscapes, suburban communities and cities. They aimed to create a habitable 'second nature - one that drew reference from its natural setting'. The Griffins delineated a land axis, aligned with the summits of four local mountains. It went from Mount Ainslie to Mount Bimberi in the Brindabellas, passing through Camp Hill and Kurrajong. Crossing this at right angles was a water axis along the river, which in the plan became a chain of ornamental basins. By integrating the site's topography with their design, the Griffins presented the site itself as a symbol 'of a democratic national identity'.

Canberra's suburb and street names present an interesting mosaic of Australia's local and national high achievers, its geography, heritage and history. Some of the people commemorated are well known, whilst others made their mark as quiet achievers. Our Indigenous heritage, Australian geography and history are all drawn together and reflected in the National Capital's place names. In 1927, the Canberra National Memorials Committee, in a report to the Federal Parliament on the Naming of Canberra's Streets and Suburbs, proposed that street names in Canberra's suburbs follow a theme. This policy (one of the oldest in the ACT) has been followed to this day.

The planning and development of Canberra from the selection of the site in 1909 to the mid-1950s was frustrated by bureaucratic bickering, political indifference and the effects of the Great Depression and the World War II. The ceremonial opening of Parliament in Canberra's provisional Parliament House came on 09 May 1927. As well as the Parliament House, The Lodge and Government House were completed as residences for the Prime Minister and the Governor-General, and the Hotel Canberra, and the Kurrajong Hotel housed parliamentarians.

By 1930, with Parliament transferred and the nucleus of the city created, the early Depression years initially halted all development, except for the completion of Manuka Swimming Pool and the first National Library on Kings Avenue. By the mid-1930s, building activity recommenced and major projects such as the Australian War Memorial. The war years once again dampened building activity. Following the war and into the early 1950s, little building of consequence was undertaken.

The key features of the 'General Growth Strategy', or 'Y-Plan' (1970), were that growth should be contained within valleys, leaving the surrounding hills free from development. The 'Y-Plan' guided the development of Canberra for more than 30 years. 'New Towns' beyond the scope of Griffin's central Canberra were developed in Woden-Weston Creek (begun in 1961), Belconnen (1966), Tuggeranong (1974), and more recently in Gungahlin (1997). 'Town Centres' were opened in Woden (1971), Belconnen (1977), Tuggeranong (1987) and Gungahlin (1998).

Canberra SAR Imagery In order to give impetus to development of the national capital, the Federal Government committed to a program of transferring public servants to Canberra, mainly from Melbourne. The transfer of the Department of Defence resulted in the development of the Russell complex, and the prospect of other departments moving to Canberra stimulated new plans for Civic Centre. By the mid-1980s Canberra was well established, both as a national capital and as a city in its own right.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:32:26 ZULU